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The 2014 FIFA World Cup Numerical: Müller is an assassin, and Drogba changes everything

The numbers that mattered from the first five days of the World Cup, from Thomas Müller's scoring, to Mario Balotelli's passing, to Mexico's lying scoreboard.


Honduras attempted exactly zero corners in its 3-0 loss to France.

There are a lot of ways to lose a match, 3-nil. Maybe you miss some chances early, fall behind 1-0, then see the opponent add on when you pull everybody forward. There is at least an ounce of redemption in that. But there was no redemption in Honduras' play, even if you ignore the cynical flops and fouls. Completed passes: France 597, Honduras 213. Passes in the attacking third: France 191, Honduras 45. Shots: France 20, Honduras 4. Shots on goal: France 10, Honduras 2. Possession: 71 percent France.

A lot of the attention for this match was focused on the use of goal line technology to determine whether France's second goal was indeed a goal. It was, and it wouldn't have mattered either way. The right team won and should have won by about six.


The scoreboard lies sometimes. Mexico has scored only one goal in two matches, but the combination of two incorrectly disallowed Giovani dos Santos goals against Cameroon -- one close but incorrect, the other ridiculously bad -- and an outstanding performance in a 0-0 draw against Brazil have given Mexico a lot of confidence and notoriety moving forward.


There are generally three referees for a basketball game, which is played on a court the equivalent of about 31 yards by 17 yards. On rare occasion, they might get hit by an errant pass or a player tumbling out of bounds, but for the most part they stay out of the way.

They also miss a lot of calls despite being pretty close to the action and only needing to monitor 10 players.

A lot of soccer traditions are unfamiliar and strange to the typical American novice. Extra time causes consternation, but it's not really that big a deal. But the one tradition I've forever been unable to stomach is the thought of having only one referee monitoring the field (100+ yards by 50+ yards) from the inside, with two more perched on the sideline, potentially making judgment calls on action 50-60 yards away.

You don't want officials to get in the way, but I would trade one extra "the ref gets hit by a ball/player" instance per game for fewer missed calls and successful flops like the one that cost Croatia a 71st-minute penalty against Brazil in the tournament opener. Flops will still work -- they certainly do in basketball -- but soccer is already a nearly impossible game to officiate. Basically mandating that officials are as far away from the action as possible to make tough calls ensures that the miss rate is unforgivably high.


Colombia scored on Greece just 4 minutes in. Greece is defensive, conservative, and the team least likely to handle an early deficit well. They didn't handle it well, eventually falling 3-0.


Ecuador had five "Dangerous Attacks" in last 15 minutes against Switzerland. Switzerland had four. One must credit the Ecuadorians and coach Reinaldo Rueda for going for three points instead of just one during a 1-1 tie, but in the name of gaining two points, they lost one when Haris Seferović scored on a 93rd-minute counter and gave the Swiss a 2-1 win.


Spanish goalkeeper Iker Casillas is 33 years old. He has made 155 appearances for his country and 478 for Real Madrid. He has long been one of the world's great goalkeepers.

In his last 11 World Cup matches, dating back to the 2002 cup quarterfinals against South Korea, Casillas had allowed just six goals. He had allowed just 11 goals in 16 career WC matches. And he allowed none for the first 43 minutes of Spain's 2014 opener against The Netherlands.

He allowed six World Cup goals in 12 years, then allowed five in 37 minutes. The actual end of a career unfolds over a potentially long period of time. The symbolic end can come in half an hour.


Nigeria completed 404 passes against Iran (Iran completed 148). The Super Eagles attempted seven corners to Iran's two and completed 142 passes in the attacking third to Iran's 54. They also only got off 10 shots to Iran's nine in a scoreless draw. Dominate all you want; you also have to get the ball sent toward the goal at times. Iran clogged up the middle of the field, and Nigeria was left passing around the perimeter or turning the ball over more often than not.

Chile suffered the same issues against Australia. La Roja more than doubled the Socceroos in terms of completed passes, both overall (541-254) and in the attacking third (180-80). But as the announcers mentioned during the game, they were almost just trying to pass the ball into the net. Two goals in three minutes gave them a 2-0 lead that they almost relinquished on multiple occasions before finally putting the match away with a third goal in stoppage time. Possession is great. Shots are greater.


Bosnia-Herzegovina had 11 shots on target and 16 scoring attempts against Argentina while their sky blue opponents had just five and 11, respectively. Argentina won, thanks to a third-minute own goal and some second-half magic by Lionel Messi, but with neither Iran nor Nigeria looking particularly impressive in the other opening Group F match, the Dragons staked a pretty strong claim to second-in-the-group status, and if they indeed finish second, they could give France, the most likely Group E winner at the moment, fits in the knockout round.


Italian striker Mario Balotelli has long been an internet favorite due to his playing style, his hairdos, and what I'll call his playful, potentially harmful lack of judgment off the field. But he's also an occasionally brilliant player, and he showed why. The 23-year old (he's only 23!) Italian completed 16 of 19 passes during Italy's 2-1 win over England and went 4-for-6 in the attacking third. He also flipped a lovely shot over the keeper's head (blocked away by a lunging defender) late in the first half and flicked in the easiest of headers -- easy for someone who goes 6'3, at least -- for the go-ahead goal five minutes into the second half.

Balotelli is a complete forward, not simply a poacher (and hey, there's extreme value in a great poacher), and his entire game was on display against England. And thanks to Costa Rica's upset of Uruguay, Italy's win put the Azzurri in charge of Group D.

Let's put Balotelli's passing into perspective. American star midfielder Michael Bradley completed just six of 12 passes in the attacking third in the United States' unlikely 2-1 win over Ghana. Bradley was just 15-for-22 overall on passes forward. Never mind the other facets of Bradley's frustrating game -- his 1-for-3 tackling, plus a late clock-related error in which he made an aggressive, errant pass instead of killing up to another 30 seconds as time expired -- and simply focus on the fact that Balotelli was a better passer against England than Bradley was against Ghana.

Bradley will almost certainly bounce back, of course. He's too good not to. But with Ghana marking him closely and controlling the flow of the game with its own dominant midfield, he was handcuffed and frustrated. And when Bradley is not playing at his best, the U.S. is basically the same ugly-but-reasonably-effective team it always has been. Bradley holds the key to Klinsmann Ball. That the U.S. beat a good team without him says good things about the team's prospects moving forward if he does indeed bounce back.


Uruguay committed 20 fouls in its 3-1 loss to Costa Rica. That isn't an inordinate amount -- Costa Rica committed 18 of its own. But Costa Rica was also the more physical team, attempting 25 tackles to 20, and despite fewer attempts, Los Charrúas committed more fouls and drew four cards (three yellow, one red) to Costa Rica's none. Uruguay has all of the offensive talent in the world but simply couldn't cope with Costa Rica's physical play. Striker Joel Campbell was too much; he got off four shots and completed 21 of 24 passes. Uruguay led, 1-0, until the Ticos scored twice in four minutes early in the second half, and when Uruguay got desperate, things got ugly.


Thomas Müller is 24 years old. He has already scored eight goals in eight World Cup matches. Depending on Germany's level of success in the coming years -- and it probably goes without saying that the Germans will probably continue to be tournament favorites each time around -- he could have another 15-20 World Cup matches in him, more if he ages like Miroslav Klose, who still has a spot on the German team at 36.

So it probably goes without saying that Ronaldo isn't going to be the World Cup's leading career goal scorer (at 15) for more than about another eight years. (Hell, Klose's at 14, so Ronaldo might not have the record a month from now.)

Müller scored three goals in Germany's 4-0 pantsing of Portugal. They probably won't be the last goals he scores in Brazil.


Didier Drogba is 36 years old. Like Klose, he's been relegated to a reserve role for his national team. But unlike Klose, he was called upon to lead a rally. With Ivory Coast trailing Japan 1-0, Drogba replaced Die Serey at the 62-minute mark. Five minutes later, the Elephants had a 2-1 lead.

We can talk about how Drogba's presence stretched out Japan's defense and opened up room for scoring headers from Wilfried Bony and Gervinho. There would be more than a little bit of truth in doing so. But it doesn't really matter whether that analysis is completely true or only a little bit true. Even numbers nerds have a spot in their heart for symbolism and sentimentality, and when Didier Drogba, probably the only World Cup participant to have headed off a civil war, is on the field, nothing else matters. All stories run through him, especially when they're successful ones.


Fabio Capello is 68 years old. Granted, the head coach of the Russian national team (and former head of England) could pass for 55, but it probably goes without saying that World Cup goalkeeping has taken a few years off of his life overall.

Note: a lot of numbers for this piece came from the wonderful FourFourTwo Statszone.